Telehealth solutions have created a vital bridge connecting patients and providers during the COVID-19 public health emergency. It’s serving as an alternative for deferred face-to-face visits and enabling specialists to consult in patient encounters, all while reducing risk of exposure to the virus by allowing patients to stay home.
Rapid adoption of telehealth services was fueled by actions by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies to temporarily relax regulations for telehealth use and expand reimbursement policies, in response to our new world of coronavirus.
Socially distant consumers are fully embracing telehealth
Almost overnight, telehealth visits grew to be more than half of all provider visits1, with physicians and other health professionals seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before the pandemic.2 Within Medicare, telehealth visits grew from approximately 13,000 fee-for-service beneficiaries engaging each week before the pandemic to nearly 1.7 million fee-for-service beneficiaries participating in telehealth, in the last week of April.3
Discussions continue in Washington, D.C., to determine which, if any, of the temporary changes will be made permanent through regulatory action. Several commercial health insurers—including BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Centene, and Blue Cross of Idaho—have already announced they’ll extend teleservices to members through end of the calendar year.4
As virtual care interactions are expected to exceed 1 billion in 20201, it’s clear that telehealth is here to stay.
4 tips to keep building on the telehealth boom
For providers who raced to quickly scale up telehealth capabilities as a temporary patch during the pandemic—and optimize the patient telehealth experience—follow these tips to truly integrate telehealth into your operations:
1. Improve the workings of your workflow
Explore opportunities to integrate telehealth within your clinical team’s existing EHR workflow to reduce unnecessary clicks and risk of lagging applications. Krames has partnered with EHR provider Epic to integrate our patient education into Epic’s telehealth module using Krames On FHIR®. Open a telehealth visit directly in the EHR and share patient education digitally through the patient portal. Providers have shared strong positive feedback as they can access clinically reviewed patient education without leaving the telehealth visit.
2. Reach and teach patients using their unique preferences
Engage patients by using their learning preferences during the virtual visit. Printed patient education remains the default for many providers—perfect for reviewing the patient’s care instructions on the printed discharge summary or after-visit summary to assess understanding.
You can also use video to engage patients during the telehealth visit. Share a brief, animated video providing step-by-step instructions on health topics such as using an inhaler or administering insulin. Reviewing videos with patients reinforces your care instructions and creates an opportunity for the patient to “teach back” to show understanding.
A Sample animated, step-by-step video from Krames
3. Create a digital patient journey to extend the virtual visit
Send patient education directly to the patient’s account within the patient portal—during the telehealth visit—to reinforce your guidance without the lag times that come with physically mailing materials. Think beyond scanned versions of printed patient education and engage patients with interactive tools.
4. Give telehealth top billing in your marketing
Promote telehealth capabilities as a differentiator. A recent study of patients who’ve used telehealth during the pandemic found that 86% feel more satisfied because they could access virtual care. Half of patients in the study said they'd switch providers to have virtual care visits on a regular basis.5
Ensure your marketing channels—website, social media, print and digital advertising, and digital e-newsletters—not only promote the availability of telehealth within your organization, but also reinforce the ease of enrollment and service experience.
1 Freedman S. 5 things COVID-19 is teaching us about the patient experience. Medical Economics Web site. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/5-things-covid-19-is-teaching-us-about-the-patient-experience. July 11, 2020. Accessed July 20, 2020.
2 Bestsennyy O, Gilbert G, Harris A, Rost J. Telehealth: a quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? McKinsey & Company Web site. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality. May 29, 2020. Accessed July 20, 2020.
3 Verma S. Early impact of CMS expansion of Medicare telehealth during COVID-19. Health Affairs Blog. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200715.454789/full. Published July 15, 2020. Accessed July 20, 2020.
4 Drees J. 4 payers that have extended telehealth coverage through 2020. Becker’s Hospital Review. June 11, 2020. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/telehealth/4-payers-that-have-extended-telehealth-coverage-through-2020.html. Accessed July 20, 2020.
5 Jerich K. Patients have positive telehealth experiences—but things could be better. Healthcare IT News. July 13, 2020. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/patients-have-positive-telehealth-experiences-things-could-be-better. Accessed July 20, 2020.